Does Pregnancy Hike Breast Cancer Risk?

Wednesday, 04 Dec 2013 11:10 AM

By Peter Hibberd, M.D.

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Question: Do you believe there could be any link between breast cancer and miscarriage or abortion? I ask because I know pregnancy changes breast tissue, and an abrupt change can leave it more vulnerable to cancer.

Dr. Hibberd's answer:
 
There is no increased risk of cancer when women have miscarriages or abortions. In fact, pregnancy actually decreases the risk of certain types of breast cancer. For example, a woman who is 20 years old or younger who carries a pregnancy to term will have half the breast cancer risk of a woman who waits until she is over 30 to carry her first child to term.
 
You are, however, correct in your concern that pregnancy changes breast tissue, because we have seen a short-term increase in breast cancer risk in women who have recently given birth. But that disappears within 10 years of childbirth. This is believed to be related to an amplifying effect that high levels of hormones have on breast tissue that was most likely affected with a microscopic cancer before the pregnancy.  
 
This is likely the same mechanism that provides a slightly higher breast cancer risk for those on birth control pills, whose risk is increased even more by smoking.

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